“Ah, Colonel. We were just wondering.”
“I have my com unit, Captain.”
“Yeah, well, we would have called in an emergency. But our drone is approaching the patrol area.”
“Small units are racing down Highway 17, no resistance. Same for all units. Nothing really new in the way of intelligence, although people are talking about the landing. I guess they think we’re the last ones to hear up here.” Quite frankly, the phones were ringing and everyone was talking about it.
“In normal times, we probably would be.”
That was probably true, although there was public radio and a small television station, community news-rags and the like. So far, these were carrying on in as neutral fashion as possible, sticking to regular programming. They were wondering what the future held, and waiting to see what happened. The news had been reported, without too many editorialists leaping onto bandwagons…they were covering their asses and not taking too many risks.
From their perspective, there was nowhere to run…nowhere to really evacuate. If the locals were sending in letters to the editor, they were being suppressed or deleted. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil…and all the while, desperately trying to be objective.
Perhaps this was only to be expected. The newswriting bots would be programmed to be as cautious and as fact-based as possible. It saved on manpower and avoided accusations of partisanship if nothing else.
Even Shiloh had its news services. Those were skewed in predictable ways as a matter of public policy.
Reading between the lines, the newsies could see her situation just as well as she could—and they weren’t privy to the plan, either, which might have bolstered a bit of confidence in the few humans involved in the process.
A change of masters might very well be in the cards from their perspective, and so why take unnecessary risks?
Just the facts, ma’am.
Short, sweet, and to the point.
“Command Centre. Command Centre. Come in, please.”
“Ah. That’s Corporal Haliwell.”
One of the technical people brought Haliwell up on Captain Aaron’s battle-board.
Captain Aaron had the board, with Dona hovering behind his seat.
“What’s going on, Corporal.”
“Trooper Noya says he has the spaceport in sight. The town is just below the hills, he says another five or ten minutes before we get a look.”
“Roger that. What are we seeing?”
“They’re still unloading. No big concentration of forces. Trucks and buses going back and forth. They’re probably billeting in the city, Colonel.” Small forces at the spaceport could be accommodated in existing buildings there, one or two of which had been positively identified. “There has to be six or seven thousand of them, and that’s a lot of beds to find in a hurry.”
The voice wasn’t Haliwell, and Paul and Dona looked at each other.
“What’s what, trooper?”
A red circle appeared on their screen. At such a long distance, whatever was out there was nothing but an indistinct grey smudge in the sky.
“Am turning to starboard to investigate. Over.”
Fascinated, they stared at the board. Shit. The enemy had a drone of their own, and it was headed right this way.
That was quick.
It appeared that Noya was climbing.
“What in the hell.”
“Hmn. He’s trying to get above their cameras…the bugger’s right in the sun, as far as I can make out.” Paul’s eyes strayed to the big board, and the clock.
“Well. Now I am impressed.”
Haliwell was also talking, but not to them.
“All right, boyo…let’s see what they’ve got.”
Being a bit jealous of her story and her cheeseburgers. Captain Aaron had departed the command centre to see if it was true—and if so, to maybe get a burger of his own.
He was just coming back in, balancing a rather floppy paper plate, heavily-laden, when Trooper Green spoke up.
Dona’s eyebrows were just raising at the sight of potato salad and coleslaw—how come she hadn’t seen that?
“Sirs. Er—Colonel. We got action—sort of.” This was from a couple of stations to her left.
Relinquishing the hot-seat, Dona stood up and went to his board as Paul settled into her place.
“Right. What have we got.”
“It’s—it’s unbelievable. But someone claiming to be a General McMurdo wishes to speak with Lieutenant-Colonel Graham.”
“What do we do, Colonel.”
There was a bit of a gagging sound from Paul’s direction, caught on the fly with a mouthful of meat, half-chewed and not wanting to spit it out.
“That, is a very good question.” There was no question of taking the call in the command centre.
There were too many people, too many displays, too many maps, too much detail in the background that might be of use to enemy intelligence analysis.
“I know.” It was Captain Aaron. “We’ll drag in a couple of whiteboards from the conference room down the hall. You can sit right here, and we’ll block everything else out.”
White-boards? That really was low-tech.
With a couple of spare troops in tow, Paul bolted from the room and down the hall as Dona took the hot-seat again.
There was a time for patience.
There were thumps and voices and then they were back, dragging in the first of the free-standing boards, with arcane sales data, production schedules and other marks scrawled on them. This would be from the most recent staff meeting, presumably.
“Get a couple more.”
Trooper Green was stalling magnificently, his voice rising with a note of contempt.
“She’s very busy, and we don’t take kindly to smart-asses and their goofy little pranks, sonny-boy.”
He listened, the signal audio-only and coming in over the civil phone system.
“Sure, sure. Whatever you say, Bud. You’d better not be wasting our time.” Green winced, getting an earful no doubt. “You guys are a bunch of fucking idiots, incidentally.”
Brain-dead, mouth-brooding bottom-feeders.
Green had quite the mouth on him.
Her face twisted in involuntary humour.
It wasn’t entirely unheard-of in war. Enemies talk to one another. It was an old and time-honoured tradition in some respects. It was why they were there.
“Sure, sure, asshole—bring the God-damned picture up or you can all go fuck yourselves.”
The fact was, they had to have some kind of public phone number for the locals, for everyone from the Mayor on down to communicate. They weren’t in the phone book, not exactly, but someone had obviously given it away.
An insane thought, but before the invasion, the local force probably had been in the book—they had to be. It was the sort of innocent detail that you totally forgot to ask about and somehow, always came back to bite you.
Right in the ass.
“All right, Trooper. We’ll take it now.”
Another trooper had set a small camera pickup on top of a nearby filing cabinet, zooming in and making sure there was nothing in the background. He had a small monitor set up so she could watch herself.
Behind her, a trooper was just wiping down the last board with a damp cloth, erasing any clues that might have given away their present location. Someone threw a chunk of tape across the company logo. Somerset Fabrications on the top of a board would have been a dead giveaway…they were definitely in the book, and a company website would have their address, maybe even a little map, and a few names and phone numbers for sure.
“Paul. Prepare to evacuate and move to Command Centre Two.” For that, a building further out on the outskirts had already been designated, although it was her impression little had been done to further that part of the plan.
There just weren’t enough people for every little job.
“Roger that, Colonel.” He bolted from the room at a run, needing to find as many warm bodies as possible in as short a time as possible.
Much of their equipment would have to be moved, set up again and checked for bugs…there was just time to freshen up the lipstick and pull the tunic zipper down about as far as she dared.
Checking the monitor, she gave the zipper another tug.
“Are we ready?”
“Yes, Colonel.” He tore his eyes from her cleavage.
She gave him a wink as his face flushed beet-red.
“Put the gentleman on.”
She sat calmly, hands folded in her lap and her posture good. She had the helmet and the flash-goggles on. Someone had propped a weapon against the back of her chair. Her heart was beating a bit faster.
A smile lit up her face as the screen changed.
He had decided to show himself.
“Well, hello, General.”
“Ah, hello, Lieutenant-Colonel Graham. I’m so glad you could find the time to speak with me.”
It was a head-and-shoulders shot. The Unfriendlies weren’t tipping much of a hand either, with blank wood paneling behind the General and no one else in the picture. The telephone-location was blocked, an elementary precaution. So was hers.
“What can I do for you, General?”
“I would ask for your surrender, but I have this funny feeling I would be wasting my time.”
“Anything else, General?”
“This planet means nothing to you. And I would so like to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.”
“We’re under contract to the people of Denebola, and we tend to take that sort of thing very seriously.”
“Your contract is illegal. Our legal counsel is, or will be shortly, taking that up with the Interstellar Court.” The Unfriendlies were under contract to the Mining Worlds, further out on the rim of the galaxy, and acting on their behalf.
No more than she knew from the web.
“Hmn. Very well. You’re certainly within your rights to do that. Naturally, our own counsel will be drawing attention to the fact that your invasion violates the rights of every person and every native of this planet. This in times of clear peace. You have broken the treaty, more than one, without due notice, and for no good reason, I might add.”
“This planet was first colonized by our clients’ ancestors.”
“Sure it was, and they abandoned it for the Rim Worlds just a few years later. They removed themselves, leaving not one person or living creature behind.”
“They have never relinquished their claims to this planet.”
“Simple abandonment is enough to violate any claim, to any planet, celestial body, or works of man in space. The only thing that can’t be claimed is space itself, outside of established economic zones. The law, and many, many treaties, seem clear enough on that.”
She had the sneaking suspicion that this conversation was mostly for the record.
“The Confederation is our enemy, and the Organization is an illegal, Godless entity.”
“I do not agree, General. We’re not all atheists, which you know very well. We’re certainly not nihilists, General. Our people have perfect religious freedom. Some of them are even members of your own Church. That is their right. It goes along with the right of any free person, which so many of your people are not. And just for the record, no one has ever doubted your right to exist. Sir.”
A wan smile crossed that pudgy face, pallid and with two chins hanging over the field-grey uniform collar. The left breast was covered in stars, swords, clusters of oak leaves, Jesus-crosses and red ribbons. This guy was a real somebody.
Possibly even a winner.
“Repent now, or hellfire shall be yours, Colonel. Please be advised. This is purely a courtesy call. My troops outnumber yours by better than ten to one.”
“Thank you for the information. I shall take note of that.” There was nothing but cool amusement in her voice.
The general flushed, glittering blue eyes staring deeply into hers.
“I’m aware of your service record, of course. You’ve never really been in combat, have you, Colonel Graham? You’ve never commanded troops in the field, not in any great numbers, nor in any field of real danger. As for your teaching ability—I am deeply respectful. I’m sure you do the very, very best you can for your students, some of whom have gone on to relatively noteworthy status. The more especially so, as I, along with others, have read some of your course materials. I refer specifically to ‘Tactics of Delay’, one of your better thought-out theses. Then there’s The Economic Basis of Modern Galactic Warfare, another good one. There was nothing in there that I didn’t agree with, sometimes with a few reservations. Maybe it was the fact that it was written for students, and perhaps didn’t go quite far enough in some respects. But Fabian tactics are nothing new, Colonel. It’s basically just a rehash. And on this little planet, there really aren’t that many places to run, are there? Are you going to burn all the villages? Destroy all their crops? Kill all the livestock? I will leave you with that thought.”
“Well. I am impressed. You’ve really been doing your homework, General McMurdo. I’m flattered, I really am. Not too many people read that thing. Not if they don’t have to. You, sir, get an A for effort.”
He chuckled in spite of himself.
“So, you’re not going to make my job any easier. That will play against you, in the inevitable defeat. Think of your troops, Colonel—and the innocent civilians of this planet. The natives too, with whom we have no quarrel. We’re offering full parole. All we ask is that you turn over all weapons, and give us your written assurance of all Confederation forces vacating this planet ASAP. We will provide immediate transportation, ah, on one of our vessels, under a flag of truce. All hostile activities will cease at once. You have my word on it.”
“I’ll take that under advisement, General.”
“As for your present tactical disposition, considering the small size of the forces involved, I compliment you—it’s pretty much what I would have done under any similar circumstances.” The general winked. “You’re such a good girl.”
Off-camera at his end, there was laughter.
The signal was cut on a hand motion from McMurdo.
The glowing light on her own camera pick-up went from red to green just as Captain Aaron stepped around the end of their impromptu little cubicle.
“Well. What do you think of that?” He gave his head a little shake, humour in his eyes.
“Hmn. The nerve of some people’s kids—” Her voice might have been a little louder than necessary.
The ripple of laughter that echoed around the command centre was gratifying. Quite frankly, it had been pretty darned quiet out there, up until now
With luck, they would tell this story, and the word would soon get around.
We’re going to kick their asses.
Oh, yeah—and the Colonel’s all right.
“What do we have on this McMurdo character?” She’d never heard the name, and yet she was usually well up on Unfriendly military affairs.
“Right on it, Colonel.”
“Right. Let’s get this crap out of here.” She was referring to their temporary backdrop.
“And if he calls again, Colonel?”
“To hell with him. Let him sweat.”
“Ah—do you want us to move to Command Two?”
She thought for a second.
“No. But let’s make sure it’s all set up and ready to go.” They had triple redundancy in terms of most of their present set-up.
Setting up a series of command centres had been in the original plan—
“McMurdo was just fishing.” The trooper, waiting to take down the equipment, blushed furiously red. “Sorry.”
She gave him a long look of assessment. He was right, which was interesting.
“Roger that, Trooper.”
(End of part eleven.)
Image One. Confederation Office of Public Communications.
Image Two. CPCO. Confederation Security Force.
Image Three. Captain Paul Aaron. CPCO.
Image Four. Lieutenant-Colonel Dona Graham, collection of Louis Shalako.
Image Five. Brigadier-General McMurdo, Confederation Intelligence Directorate.
Image Six. CPCO.
Louis has books and stories available on Smashwords, all free for our Big July Blowout.
In a few days or so, they will also all be free on iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and some other fine online retailers.
Other online serials by Louis Shalako:
#99 Easy Street. (Thriller, suspense.) This is the final episode, with links to all the other parts.
Speak Softly My Love, an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery. (Crime, noir.) Links to the rest right at the top, which I don’t do now.
The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue, (Science-fiction, satire) with links as usual.
Thank you for reading.